Saturday, March 21, 2009

Draft Prep -- The Best Thing about Rhino Baseball

For those of you who don't know, I'm the creator of a rotisserie baseball program called Rhino Baseball Deluxe. It's the only available desktop software for fantasy baseball that combines everything from managing rosters and crunching stats multiple fantasy leagues, computing customized player projections, computing customized dollar values, preparing for your annual rotisserie auction, tracking live draft results and assisting you to make the best possible bids/picks, computing in-season player and fantasy team projections, creating trend graphs, and evaluating players and teams during the season in a variety of ways.

Although this software was initially released in 1998 (as Rhino Scout) and has been around ever since, not enough fantasy players really know enough about it. Ultra conservative marketing is somewhat to blame, as is the complexity of the program -- it contains so much stuff that casual users and inexperienced fantasy baseball enthusiasts are quite intimidated by it. There are also a host of other reasons why I've never gotten rich off the darn thing, although it has done well enough that it has been continually enhanced and sold for 12 years now.

I really love this baseball software (I'm a little biased!) and have been using it to run my fantasy league for 13 years (since the 1st beta version) and to prepare for my rotisserie auctions for many years now. I've also used the live draft tracking / management tools since they became available in 2005, and have had great success with them. Since 2000, I've finished in-the-money (top 4) every year in our HARL league and have captured 4 HARL championships. I owe much of that success to the fantastic draft prep and stats analysis of Rhino Baseball.

One major feature of Rhino Baseball that non-users don't know anything about are the Draft Planning tools in Rhino Baseball; in particular the Draft Assistant, Draft Plan Analyzer, and Draft Advisor. They're definitely unique to this software program; I haven't seen anything else like them in any other software package. So just what is a draft plan?

Many inexperienced rotisserie GM's make the mistake of grabbing a set of player projections, crunching player dollar values off of those projected stats, printing out player rankings (sorted by dollar value), and then thinking they're done with their draft prep. Unless you're in a league full of newbies, you haven't gone far enough in your draft preparation. Dollar Values and player rankings are great, but they must live and die within the context of two major things: Your Fantasy Team Budget and the Statistical Goals you need to reach in order to win. The simple facts are: (1) you cannot afford to fill out your roster solely with superstars, and (2) just because a given player has a high projected dollar value doesn't mean he's the perfect fit for your team at a given point during the auction.

Here's where Rhino Baseball comes to the rescue. Rhino Baseball includes a really neat function called the Draft Assistant. It lets you search through the available players for your draft, and build a POSSIBLE ROSTER of players for your fantasy team. Each player's DRAFT PRICE is based on his projected dollar value, although you can tweak it as necessary (e.g. perhaps you think you can get a player for his Optimal Bid price, generally 70% to 85% of his projected value).

Building these draft rosters or DRAFT PLANS is an eye opening experience, not to mention a hell of a lot of fun. You quickly realize that you've got many tough choices to make. You cannot afford all the studs. So do you spend the money on 1B Lance Berkman to get his great OBA and top-notch run production, or do you grab 2B Brandon Phillips who offers a nice power/speed blend at a position which lacks depth after the top 3 or 4 guys are drafted? Can you afford to pay for a stud Closer and 3 excellent Starting Pitchers? How many dirt cheap $1 guys (one bid unit) must you draft to compensate for all that money you're spending on studs? These are the kinds of choices that the Draft Assistant alerts you to. It helps you build a great team that's WITHIN YOUR BUDGET.

The really neat thing about Draft Assistant is that you can create MULTIPLE draft plans (budgets). I often build 6 or 7 of them. Once I've spent the time to do that, I open the Draft Plan Analyzer function to evaluate which of my plans is gives me the best chance to win. Here's how that works.

In the Draft Plan Analyzer, you enter your STAT GOALS into a popup window for all the stat categories your fantasy league uses. For instance, if you play in a 5x5 league that uses Batting Average, Runs Scored, RBI, Home Runs, Stolen Bases, Wins, Saves, ERA, Strikeouts, and WHIP, you enter a target value for each of those stat categories. This is the stat level that you want your team to reach. Generally, it's going to be the stats level you'll need to reach in order to finish 3rd in each category (or perhaps 4th in a large league with 13 or more teams). I usually look at the last few years of our HARL fantasy league stats to derive realistic stat goals for my team.

Once you've entered your goals, you click a button and the Draft Plan Analyzer does the heavy lifting. It computes the projected stats for each of your selected draft plans (you can select all 7 at once if you like), compares those projections against your given Stat Goals, and calculates a Plus/Minus Factor for each plan. The plan with the largest plus-factor gives you the best shot to achieve your goals and garner enough points in your league standings to win. That's the draft plan that becomes my PRIMARY draft plan to follow on Draft Day. The 2nd best draft plan serves as my fallback option or SECONDARY plan.

Armed with these draft plans, I use them during my live rotisserie auction using the program's Draft Advisor tool. Rhino Baseball and its associated SQL database can be loaded right onto your laptop and you can take it with you to your annual draft. There are several "Live Draft" related functions, but I won't delve into them now. Most of them are for tracking which players are still available (ranked by best-to-worst value), adjusting player prices due to draft inflation/deflation, checking Drafted Rosters for all the teams, looking at Projected Fantasy Team Stats at any point of the draft, and so forth. But the coolest and most helpful tool in my opinion is the Draft Advisor function.

The Draft Advisor function lets you look at a selected draft plan (usually your Primary plan, unless you've gone to your fallback plan). You can see which players you've drafted (highlighted in green), which are still available (not highlighted), and which players (highlighted in red) your fellow owners have drafted out from under your nose (bastards!!!). For players who have been poached by someone else, you can click on a player then click the Recommended Replacements button to find suitable available players whose stats-production and player-values are similar to that player who was in your original plan. This is a huge help, and let's you quickly adjust your Draft Plan on the fly. It also keeps you on track Budget-wise, so you know when you've got extra money to spend (time to pounce!) and when you need to cool your jets and sit back.

On the right-side of the Draft Advisor screen, you can also see how the team you've drafted so far are stacking up against your Stat Goals. How short are you on Home Runs or Stolen Bases? Can I stop worring about ERA and Saves? It gives you a good idea of where your strengths and weaknesses are, so you can draft accordingly. If you're solid in power but are severely lacking in speed, you'll need to pay, pay, pay for the best available Stolen Base guys.

Drafting based on pure dollar values is a recipe for disaster. The Draft Advisor takes the core data (projections, dollar values, available players, frozen players, statistical goals), and helps you FOCUS your attention on what you need to do to win. Plans do change in mid-draft -- often a lot. But in order to succeed and win, my strong belief is that you need to "work your plan during the draft". It's hard to be successful if you just wing it and go entirely on gut instinct.

Those draft plan and advisor tools are really what makes Rhino Baseball Deluxe and Draft Magic (the draft-only version) great from a draft prep and management perspective. I wish more people knew about it and learned to use it to their advantage. I know there are a few guys in my HARL league who have used other software packages for their draft prep and tracking. They continually fail to beat me. I wonder why?

Peace out!

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